Survey: 1 in 3 consumers say they’ll spend less than $50 on their priciest gift this holiday

Published: Thursday, November 09, 2017 @ 3:05 PM

A lot of Americans are going to resist the urge to splurge on expensive gifts this holiday season. Those are the results from a new poll from CreditCards.com.

The site surveyed 1,093 people about their holiday spending plans and found that only 53% of them said they will fork over $50 or more on their most expensive gift this year. Now, you may be saying “Waaait a minute, the latest Call of Duty game for the Playstation 4 costs double that!” And that’s true, but this year you may find your stocking stuffed with cheaper items than in previous years.

The survey also indicated that a third of respondents, about 35%, said they will spend less than $50 on their biggest gift, while 12% said they were skipping gift-giving altogether.

The numbers indicate that Americans may be pulling back a bit after spending themselves into near-record credit card debt earlier this year. In August, the Federal Reserve reported that debt had reached $1.021 trillion, a mark not seen since the Great Recession of 2008.

U.S. consumers opting for less pricey gifts this holiday, survey says

In addition to spending less money overall, the survey suggests that Americans were opting for smaller gifts this year rather than big expensive ones.

“I think it’s encouraging, because although we might usually think that the more expensive the gift, the better it is, that’s often not the case,” Evan Polman, a University of Wisconsin marketing professor, was said. Polman has previously done research on gift giving. “As a recipient, you’re usually just as happy to receive an expensive gift as you are an inexpensive gift. There is some truth to ‘It’s the thought that counts.’”

Merchants expect retail sales to increase in November and December, but the big spenders will likely be a smaller percentage of shoppers this year. The survey indicated that only 9% of likely shoppers said that they will spend more than $250 on a gift.

Money expert Clark Howard advises that we brush up on our negotiating skills before shopping. Haggling for a cheaper price not only gives the shopper an opportunity to save money, but it tilts the leverage in the favor of the buyer. You’d be surprised to learn how much wiggle room there may be in a delivery fee or a listed price — but you have to ask.

If you really want to save some money, you might try making your gifts. You’d be surprised at the treasure trove of ideas you could find in that old cookbook in your kitchen.

RELATED: Here are 10 last-minute, affordable gifts

Here are 3 easy-to-make Christmas gifts

As a responsible consumer, no doubt you have a budget this holiday season. So you may be looking for some DIY gift ideas that are easy on the pocket. Here are three items that are easy to make (and bake) that will make excellent gifts.

  • Homemade Christmas cookies
  • DIY coasters (made from scrapbook paper)
  • Cookies in a jar

Taking into account the survey and consumer debt, it looks like affordable gifts will be all the rage this holiday season. A survey we wrote about a couple years ago indicated that people actually prefer practical gifts instead of the latest and greatest gadget for the holiday.

And you know what survey respondents said was the best gift of all? Cash. Nearly 60% of folks said they’d take greenbacks over gift cards any day of the week — and who can blame them?

4 of the best ways to turn your home into a cash cow

Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 4:17 PM

Sites like Airbnb let you rent out your home to make money.
Sites like Airbnb let you rent out your home to make money.

Your house is a large expense with many associated costs like a mortgage payment, insurance, maintenance and more.

RELATED: How to Cash In on Short-Term Rentals Like Airbnb, VRBO

It provides a roof over your head, of course, but since it usually costs you money each month, why not put it to work for you and earn some cash in the process?

The following are four ways your house can make you money:

You can relax on the lake, in the woods or even in the back of a van when you're looking for a staycation in Gwinnett County.(Airbnb)

List your home with Airbnb or VRBO.

If you're planning to be out of town for a few days or don't mind bunking with a friend, you may be able to make some money by renting out your home through sites like Airbnb and VRBO.

Before jumping in, you'll need to take time to learn about the market, your expenses and any taxes you may need to pay. And before you list your property, you'll need to understand how to make it stand out with a good listing, including compelling photos and competitive pricing. Airbnb has a series of toolkits to help with this.

RELATED: Atlanta has Airbnb's most desired rental property in the world.

Rent it out to the area's growing TV and film industry.

When TV, film and commercial producers want to depict a home on screen, many times they'll rent the real thing, according to Money. It can be inconvenient for owners, however, since their homes may be taken over by a large crew and be completely rearranged.

On the other hand, homeowners often have fun with the experience while making some extra money. And while you're watching TV or a movie, you may be able to spot your home.

Host a foreign exchange student or faculty member.

Temporarily hosting a foreign exchange student or faculty member who's studying or teaching in this country can help you make some extra cash for anywhere from six weeks to six months at a time. You'll also be exposed to a different culture and language, and the experience could help you form a bond that lasts even when your guest returns home.

The Penny Hoarder suggests contacting student housing offices at local community colleges and universities, asking to be placed on their list of host families. After this, you'll have to apply, be interviewed, and allow your home to be toured. You'll also need to pass background and reference checks.

The 4-bedroom house sits on a corner lot with a concrete driveway that leads up to the two 2-car garages both having rear service doors. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS BY KATHY TYLER

Rent out your driveway or storage space.

If you have extra space in your driveway, you may be able to make some money by letting others park there, according to Men's Health. This is especially true if you live near a commuter rail line or sports stadium, but you'll need to check to make sure you're not violating any local ordinances. Check out websites like JustPark to get started.

The Balance also suggests renting out any extra storage space you may have. From vehicles to personal items, your garage or home could help you make money through a site like StoreAtMyHouse.

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5 ways to get the most out of your health insurance plan

Published: Tuesday, November 14, 2017 @ 3:15 PM

Here are five ways to ensure you're getting the most out of your health insurance Choose your plan carefully Take advantage of preventative care benefits Work within your formulary Utilize HSAs and FSAs Watch out for surprise out-of-network charges

Health insurance has a large impact on your finances, so it pays to get the most out of your plan.

Understanding its ins and outs can be confusing, but it's worth your time to check on benefits you could be losing out on or mistakes that could cost you money.

Here are five ways to ensure you're getting the most out of your health insurance:

Choose your plan carefully.

When it's time to renew your health care coverage, consumer adviser Clark Howard recommends not just blindly signing up for your current plan, even if you've been happy with it.

Your plan – as well as other options you may be able to sign up for – may have changed. Take a close look at the co-pays, deductibles, in-network providers and other specifics to make sure you're making the best possible choice.

Take advantage of preventative care benefits.

Almost every plan, according to healthcare.gov, offers preventative care benefits that are free. You won't have to pay a co-pay or meet your deductible to get these services at no charge.

Services for adults include age-appropriate vaccinations and colorectal cancer screenings for patients over 50.

RELATED: 8 ways to get the cheapest car insurance possible

Work within your formulary.

Health care plans typically have a formulary, which is a list of medications that they're willing to pay part of or the entire cost of. It may include a list of preferred medications, for which it will pay the highest percentage of the cost.

It pays to be familiar with your formulary before you get an unpleasant surprise at the pharmacy, according to NerdWallet. Print out a copy of the document from your health insurance company's website, or call up an online copy at your doctor's office. Your doctor can work with you to make sure you get an effective medication that you can afford.

Utilize HSAs and FSAs.

If your health insurance plans allow you to put aside tax-free dollars in a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA), you should learn how they can help you. Consumer advisor Clark Howard's website, Clark.com, has a chart that explains the pros and cons of each.

An HSA is usually associated with high-deductible plans, and like an FSA, it helps you save money to pay for health care expenses. These can include everything from prescription eyeglasses to medication.

Watch out for surprise out-of-network charges.

Your insurance plan has a list of network providers, and when you can, you should stay in-network. That's easy enough if you're visiting a single doctor, but if you need to have surgery, things can get more complicated.

For pre-planned surgery, Consumer Reports recommends talking with your doctor's billing department to get a list of everyone who will provide your care, including radiologists and anesthesiologists. Call your health care company to see if they're in-network, and if not, ask your doctor if in-network providers can be used.

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5 ways to ensure you're getting the best mortgage rate

Published: Thursday, November 09, 2017 @ 5:11 PM

The following are five ways to ensure that you're getting the best mortgage rate possible Look beyond a 30-year fixed rate Improve your credit score if it's low Beef up your down payment Get more than one quote Consider paying points

When you're buying a home, getting the best possible mortgage rate can have a positive effect on your finances for years to come.

RELATED: 7 clever ways to cut the costs of buying your first home

Depending on how large your mortgage is and how long you stay in your home, it can save you thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.

The following are five ways to ensure that you're getting the best mortgage rate possible:

Look beyond a 30-year fixed rate.

A 30-year fixed rate is the standard loan, but it's not the only option. If you can handle a higher monthly payment, you can save a significant amount over time by getting a 15-year mortgage.

Although you'll pay more each month, you'll get a lower interest rate and be able to pay off your home much quicker. In addition, more of your early payments go toward paying down the principal, according to The Motley Fool.

Improve your credit score if it's low.

It's important to keep your credit score in good shape because it helps determine how many loan options you'll have as well as the interest rate you'll pay. Check your score with each agency – EquifaxExperian and TransUnion – and correct any mistakes. If needed, delay getting a loan until you can improve your score by paying off debt and paying every bill on time.

The Simple Dollar looked at mortgage interest rates based on three different credit rates. The lowest credit score used (620) would cost the borrower more than $99,000 over the life of the loan when compared to a higher score (over 760).

Beef up your down payment.

Most lenders like to see at least a 20 percent down payment in order to get the best mortgage loan rate, according to Forbes. If you pay less, you may have a higher rate since the lender will consider you to be at higher risk of defaulting.

You'll also have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), which protects the lender's interests in case you default on the loan.

Get more than one quote.

Most people get just one mortgage quote, consumer adviser Clark Howard says. He recommends shopping around and getting quotes from multiple lenders, including a local bank, a credit union and a few online lenders.

Each inquiry will be recorded on your credit report, so you should get your quotes within a two-week period. That way, it doesn't look like you're applying for multiple loans.

Consider paying points.

Lenders will often give you the option of paying for discount points up front in exchange for lowering your interest rate. These fees are paid directly to the lender, and one point costs 1 percent of your mortgage amount.

The reduction in interest depends on the lender, and you'll need to run the numbers to determine when you'll break even by consulting a mortgage point calculator. If you plan to live in your home for a long time, paying points may make sense, according to Money.

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Piggy bank vs. savings account: Which is the best way to save?

Published: Wednesday, November 08, 2017 @ 2:33 PM

The following are some advantages of piggy banks versus savings accounts, so you can choose the one that works best for you A piggy bank can help break your goal down into manageable amounts A piggy bank lets you literally see your savings grow You can make a game of it With a savings account, you can put your savings on autopilot Money in a member Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation bank is insured You'll earn interest on your money

If you're trying to build up your savings, you may be wondering where it's best to stash your cash – in a piggy bank or in a savings account.

The best choice depends on what works for you. Do you need to keep your money harder to access, or does seeing it accumulate give you an incentive to keep saving?

RELATED: 7 clever ways to cut the costs of buying your first home

The following are some advantages of piggy banks versus savings accounts, so you can choose the one that works best for you:

Piggy bank

It allows you to save a little at a time.

A piggy bank can help break your goal down into manageable amounts, according to a financial planner writing for USA Today. He says it's a good reminder of the value of saving consistently. When broken down into small daily goals, even a large purchase, trip or other expense seems much more achievable, he says.

It reinforces the idea of saving.

A piggy bank lets you literally see your savings grow. This is not only a good lesson for kids, but it also helps remind adults to "always be saving," according to Great Midwest Bank.

It's painless and simple.

Clark.com's Michael Timmerman touts the "$5 and change savings challenge" that encourages participants to stash their $5 bills and change in a piggy bank. He likes its simplicity and the fact that you can easily customize it, saving $1 bills if you'd prefer.

You can make a game of it.

An editor at Get Rich Slowly started saving coins at home, and soon it became a game to see how much could be accumulated. The editor began altering purchases in order to get more change back, and in seven months, without any deprivation, the coins added up to $723.

Savings account

You can put your savings on autopilot.

You can pay yourself before you ever see your paycheck if you sign up to have a small percentage of each check diverted to your savings account. Bankrate says this "out of sight, out of mind" strategy works for many people.

Your money is safe.

A stash of money at home could be stolen or destroyed in a fire or other disaster. Money in a member Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation bank is insured, according to Ally.

You'll earn interest on your money.

Savings account interest rates are at historic lows, Forbes says, but online banks tend to offer rates that are a little bit better than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. The site also says that several online banks have raised their rates in recent months.

It's harder to spend.

Money stashed at home is easy to raid, and even small amounts of cash for a pizza or coffee shop run can deplete your savings over time, according to Wise Bread. Since it takes a little more effort to access a savings account, and you're not as tempted to withdraw small amounts, it tends to accumulate faster.

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